Home Invasion (Part 1)

(Gershon Ben Keren - Thu 28th Jul)

Every 6 weeks, our school puts on a seminar, that focuses on a particular situation or type of violence, such as active shooter incidents, mugging and street robbery scenarios etc. Last Saturday, we conducted a Home Invasion seminar, looking at Home Invasion Robberies (HIR), and Home Invasion Homicides (HIH). Although these types of crime may not be the most common in the US, compared to a country such as South Africa, they are on the increase, especially within certain populations (the elderly, certain immigrant communities etc.), and despite the fact that we may not see ourselves as prime targets for such crimes, the criminals who commit these acts, may think otherwise.

This is a two-part blog piece, with this article looking at and describing what a Home Invasion is and isn’t, and the motivations and profiles of those who commit them, with the second part looking at how Home Invasions occur, and what we can do to prevent them.

Although the first use of the term “Home Invasion”, occurred in a Washington Post article in 1925, it was in the 1970’s and 80’s that the term started to become associated with a specific type of crime. Originally it was used to describe the activities of the “Cocaine Cowboys”, in Southern Florida, who would forcibly enter rival gangs’ houses, and steal their drugs, using extreme violence to subdue anyone who was in the property at the time; sometimes taking them hostage, and stealing their personal items, such as credit cards, cash, etc. as well. Other criminals then started to copy this method, applying it to and targeting ordinary citizens, and their residential properties.

It is worth noting that although we all know what a Home Invasion is, there is no actual legal definition that matches our understanding, rather a Home Invasion comprises of a number of individual criminal acts that include, breaking and entering, trespass, assault and battery, robbery, etc. Certain States in the US are trying to move towards a singular definition of this particular type of crime, however it is difficult to come up with a comprehensive and extensive enough definition, that would cover all types of Home Invasion. 

It’s important to distinguish between accidental/incidental Home Invasions, and those that are planned (and in many cases rehearsed), and fit the true definition of a Home Invasion Robbery. Sometimes the media, will refer to burglaries that have gone wrong, as being Home Invasions e.g. home owners returning to their property, whilst a burglary is taking place etc. This is misleading, as burglary is a stealth crime, and those committing it don’t want to have to deal with other individuals, whereas those committing Home Invasions are deliberately looking to confront the property owners. Many stealth crimes have a confrontational equivalent e.g. a pickpocket wants to acquire a wallet by stealth, a mugger wants to acquire it through confrontation, a criminal who breaks into parked cars and steals them doesn’t want a confrontation, whereas a Car-Jacker does, etc. The makeup and profile of individuals who commit stealth crimes, is very different to those that confront their victims, and demonstrate a preparedness to use force and violence. A burglar may use violence if no easy escape option is available, but generally they will prefer to not have to resort to violence, this is not true of those criminals who engage in Home Invasions.

The biggest deterrents to a burglar, are signs of occupancy (which is why most burglaries happen during the day, when people are at work), whereas for those committing Home Invasions, occupancy is one of the required components. This is why most Home Invasions will happen during the evening or on weekends, when people are at home – in certain immigrant communities where a family member might be left at the property to act as security, the Home Invasion may be more likely during the daytime. This also applies to the elderly, who may also spend more time at home during the day.

There are a number of reasons why a criminal may engage in a Home Invasion (as opposed to burglary), and some of these are described below. A criminal may know, or have a good reason to believe, that a house is a prime target in terms of the value of the assets that it may contain, but may lack the technical sophistication to disable the house’s alarm system. Because of this, they may determine that the easiest way to get their hands on these valuables, is to “break in” when the homeowner is in, and the alarm is disabled. It could be that they don’t know the location of all of the items/assets of worth, and will need the home owner to retrieve them. If there is a safe, they will need the homeowner to open it for them. This is why in most Home Invasions, the first seconds and minutes, involve extreme violence, both in the form of verbal threats and physical punishment. Those committing the invasion want to make the occupants compliant and non-resistant, as quickly as possible, and the easiest way to do this is to take away any “fight” that they may have. It is not uncommon if children are present, for them to be threatened in order for parents to acquiesce to the criminal’s demands.

In some cases, the Home Invasion, may be less about the robbery and the acquiring of goods, and more about the violence meted out against the occupant(s). A Home Invasion may occur as an act of retribution e.g. if a daughter’s boyfriend has started to physically abuse her, her family members may conduct a Home Invasion against them as a form of punishment. It could also be that an estranged partner returns to their ex-partner’s house in a rage, to retrieve/collect items that once belonged to them. These situations may not seem to be common examples of Home Invasions, however certain studies have shown that in 72% of Home Invasions, the victims knew their aggressors, and in many cases didn’t even report the incident – due to the fact that they may have been guilty of criminal activity themselves, or feared further retribution, etc. There may also be secondary motivations to a Home Invasion, including rape and sexual assault; once a person is in your house, and has subdued all the occupants, they are not restricted by time, in the same way that they would be if they were committing a crime in a public place.

There are several advantage that criminals who commit Home Invasions have over those who commit burglaries. One is that there is little risk of being disturbed whilst they rob the property, as they will already be with the occupants. Another is that they will also be able to steal credit cards and cash from the occupants themselves. If a criminal is committing a Home Invasion as part of a group, one may be sent out to ATM’s, possibly in the home owner’s car, to withdraw money, whilst the other(s) continue to steal property and keep the occupants under control. The car may also be used to transport any stolen goods, to another vehicle which is parked at a distance away from the property, so that it won’t be associated with it.   

When we look at the profile of those who commit Home Invasions, they are largely committed by young, unemployed and uneducated men, who usually work in groups and specialize in these types of crime – and in many cases, as has been stated, rehearse them. It is also estimated that around 21% of armed robbers who normally target commercial properties have engaged in a Home Invasion at least once in their criminal career. When we consider these things, we should begin to understand that we are dealing with a more committed and specialized type of criminal, than your average mugger or pickpocket, etc. and one that is not afraid to use extreme violence against us.

In the next blog article, I will look at the different methods of entry that criminals engaging in Home Invasions use, and how the risks of being targeted and falling victim to such a crime can be mitigated and reduced.

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Terrorism & Mental Illness

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 25th Jul)

N.B. This is not a blog about politics, immigration policies etc. It is about mental health issues, terrorism, and security. It is intended to spark debate, and conversation, and a search for real solutions to these problems, and is not intended to be divisive.

Late last night, a 27-year old Syrian refugee, detonated a bomb he was carrying in a backpack, outside a music festival in Ansbach, Bavaria (Germany). This was the third attack, against the public, that Germany has faced within a week; a 17-year old had attacked Chinese tourists on a train with an axe and a machete, and an 18-year old went on a rampage killing spree outside a McDonald’s restaurant in Munich, shooting and killing nine (7 of whom were teenagers). All three were Muslims, two of them immigrants from Syria. At first glance, it would seem that these three separate acts, were linked by an Islamist agenda, and whilst this may still prove to be the case, it seems that these three killers had independent agendas and motives, and histories that may suggest that their primary motivations (it may be later revealed that all three were IS sympathizers however that doesn’t be default mean that these were IS inspired attacks), may be more individualistic, with the timings around the attacks, more coincidental than planned.

It appears that Ali David Sonboly (a dual Iranian-German national), who shot and killed the teenagers outside of the McDonald’s, had a long history of being fascinated by active shooter incidents; investigators found masses of articles and material concerning mass and rampage killings at his home. It also appears that the timing of his own killing spree, marked the five-year anniversary of the massacre in Norway, where Anders Breivik, a far-right extremist killed 77, attendees of a Workers Youth League summer camp. Ali David Sonboly, was mentally unstable, and had been planning the event for over a year. The Syrian refugee, who detonated the bomb last night, had twice before tried to commit suicide – and had spent time in a psychiatric ward – he was about to be deported to Bulgaria, having had his asylum application denied. The fact that he didn’t even have a ticket for the festival he was trying to get into, suggests an extreme lack of planning – which fortunately meant the impact of his attack was significantly lessened than if he’d managed to get in, and make it to a crowded area, etc. Whether or not these two individuals had any ties to terrorist organizations, it is more likely that mental health issues, had a more prominent role to play than radicalization, etc., and yet it would be all too easy to bundle these two events up with others and play the terrorism card. There is a very real security danger in doing this, if we are to be effective in preventing both further acts of terror, as well as hate crimes.

I have long argued against security and safety which is specific rather than general, that focuses on particular threats, whilst ignoring or discounting others, because at face value they don’t seem to carry the same risk. There is a very real danger from this in the current climate, where Syrian immigration is concerned. If the focus is solely on screening, identifying and denying terrorists and would-be terrorists, we may put all our attention into dealing with one threat, whilst ignoring another potential one; the mental health issues that come from growing up in a war zone and living your life as a refugee – especially if you are a child or a teenager. We may be so concerned with the dangers of radicalization, that we fail to take into account and treat, those who have serious mental and emotional health issues; those who will not grow up to be terrorists, but will become active shooters, proponents and practitioners of hate crimes, etc. Terrorist attacks by Syrian immigrants are a real threat, and need our attention, but at the same time, we need to put resources into helping those that have come from traumatic backgrounds, and who carry the scars and experiences that may in later years, propel them towards violence against the communities of which they are now part.

Ali David Sonboly, appears to have targeted teenagers (just like Anders Breivik), and whether he wanted his killing spree to appear part of a political or religious crusade or not, it is more likely that his motivations were personal; in all likelihood he wanted revenge on a group/population that had either openly mocked him, excluded him, or similar (in 2012 he’d been the victim of “bodily injuries” in an incident involving young people) – just like the Columbine Killers. Whether he believed the reason for this was down to his ethnicity/religious background or not, and in turn this lead him to sympathize with Islamist extremists, is unclear, however his spree killing seems more like a copy-cat hate crime than an act of terror. Mental health issues were a more important factor than radicalization – this does not seem to be the “traditional” story of a well-adjusted, middle class, individual who became devoutly religious, and was coerced into becoming a Jihadist. The Syrian refugee, who had previously tried to commit suicide twice, had severe mental health issues. Whether these arose from his experiences as a refugee from a war zone, or were deeper rooted, existing before the conflict in Syria began, is unclear and may never be known. Whether he was assisted in some way by a terrorist organization is still unclear, however it is evident, that depression, anxiety and other mental health issues probably had a more significant part to play, than religious fundamentalism.

Some will argue that we shouldn’t be admitting any refugees into any country. That the risk of letting terrorists in is to great, that we don’t have the resources to treat those with mental health issues, and so we shouldn’t become an incubator for hate crimes, etc. The truth is, from a security perspective, this is a futile argument; people will cross borders, whether legally or illegally, and will become part of our communities. Many of these individuals will have been exposed to and suffered traumatic events, and to deny them the services that could help them cope and overcome these, may mean that not only are we creating individuals who are susceptible to radicalization, but those who will express their anger, hate (possibly towards themselves and others) and depression, through violent acts (the same would be true of denying these services of our own mentally ill citizens). We may then, once again, miss the point and label these as acts of terrorism, and once again fail to deal with the underlying causes.

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The Benefits Of The Freeze Response

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 18th Jul)

I have written fairly extensively in this blog about the five different ways you can respond to an aggressor (e.g. Wednesday 23rd April 2014), and the difference between physiological and social responses e.g. if fighting is consciously chosen as a solution to dealing with an aggressor, it is not the same as “fight”, as an automatic, physiological response, as in the fight/flight response mechanism – deciding to run away, is different to finding yourself running away from a threat/danger. However, I’ve not written a lot about the freeze response, it’s purpose, and how to utilize it. This is the purpose of this blog article.

Fight and flight are only true adrenal responses, if you become aware of yourself already doing them, and in terms of social violence they are extremely rare. If you are confronted by a bear, and find yourself running, that is a true adrenal response. Your fear system has kicked in, and has started you moving, and it is because you are running that you start to understand the reason why. This type of response is common, when we are confronted by the threat of danger in an instance e.g. we suddenly see a bear etc. It is not that common where social violence is concerned i.e. in intra-species conflicts, where we are dealing with other human beings. If you spill a drink over somebody, and they respond aggressively, you are unlikely to suddenly find yourself running away, or for that matter attacking them. In fact, you are much more likely in that moment to freeze – to stop and do nothing. You may then decide to posture back, or act submissively etc. You may also, consciously decide to fight or run away, however this decision, should not be confused with the fight/flight response (which is physiological and automatic).

The freeze response is often painted as a bad thing by self-defense instructors (I have been guilty myself of this at times); In our urgency, to get our students to act decisively when subjecting them to stress and duress, we often inform them to do something, rather than nothing. In certain training scenarios, we may in fact be doing them a disservice, by insisting that they act immediately, rather than acknowledging the role of the freeze response, and the part it may play, in their survival. I recently did an active shooter seminar, where I started the session off with an introduction, that was interrupted by two “shooters”, coming in firing blanks (this was carefully choreographed, and done in a way that although feeling real, everybody was aware that it was in fact a drill). Everybody, to a man, froze – to put it more clearly, they either ducked and froze, or made their way to the walls, and ducked and froze. This is something that we sometimes forget about freezing; it can be preceded by action e.g. people moving from an open space, and flattening themselves against a wall, in order to make themselves less visible and less of a target – watching, I could only marvel, at the simplicity and ingenuity of the human fear system, and the way it instinctively made everyone less of a target. We tend to think of the freeze response as being like a deer caught in the headlights, however in reality, the freeze response may occur after the flight response, etc. 

In this particular moment, freezing and not acting, would have actually increased everybody’s survival chances, had this been a real-life situation. Had everyone run away from the first gunman, they would have been met by a second. Getting to a safer place, and staying still (freezing), made everybody less of a target; as movement attracts attention. In Operation Entebbe, where the IDF, rescued 102 hostages from the PFLP-EO, at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, one of the three hostages who died, was killed when he stood up and said, “The IDF are here to save us”. Unfortunately, his movement, attracted the attention of one of the rescue team, as they burst through the door, and he was shot – staying still/freezing would have been a more successful survival strategy. Freezing, has a productive purpose, and as self-defense instructors we have to acknowledge this; the danger of freezing comes when people remain in this state.

Another example, of the value of the freeze response, that came from this seminar, was that many people were unable initially to identify where the shots were coming from. Most people heard the shots, and reacted, before they recognized who the gunman was, and where he was shooting from. In enclosed spaces, gunshots echo, and depending on where you are, the echo can sound as loud as the original shot. By immediately responding/acting, you could be running away from an echo, and towards the shooter. By freezing, lowering/reducing the profile, individuals were able to take a moment to assess what was actually going on, and what they should do, how they should respond, etc. Sometimes it is worth taking a moment to assess the danger and formulate a response. There is a huge difference between blind panic and decisiveness, and as instructors we are not always the best at differentiating the two; not all action is effective action.

The freeze response, has its place and purpose; it can help keep us from becoming a target, and it can give us a moment to formulate a strategy. The danger from it comes when we don’t have a strategy, and because of this we’re unable to move forward – this is when we become like the deer caught in the headlights i.e. we’re hoping the danger avoids us, rather than the other way round. The quickest and easiest way to make sure we’re not caught in this state, is to breathe. When we freeze, we stop breathing, because our fear system wants us to become like a statue, and the movement of the lungs will prevent this. If we start to breathe (and this must be a conscious, planned thing), we will find ourselves free. This is when we can become decisive, and enact the plans, and strategies we have been taught.

All of our natural responses to danger have a purpose – if they haven’t, they’d have died away, evolved and/or transformed themselves in some way. The freeze response has its purpose(s), and we should acknowledge it, and accept and build it into the way we train our students. We should differentiate between decisiveness and actions that are borne out of panic. Our goal is survival, and we should recognize and understand how our natural responses facilitate this.

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Nice Truck Attack

(Gershon Ben Keren - Fri 15th Jul)

Although we don’t yet know the motives and reasons behind last night’s attack in Nice, France (where a lorry was driven for 2 kilometers along the town’s promenade, killing at least 84), whether it was an act of “Leaderless Jihad” (both IS and AQ have talked about using vehicles to kill), a hate crime, an act of revenge upon the town due to a personal dispute, etc. there are lessons to be learnt, concerning the type of future we can expect concerning mass killings and violence directed towards groups. Violence rarely stands still, and criminals/terrorists are adept at educating themselves to be more effective and efficient in their killings, and to find new targets that they may previously overlooked. In this blog article, I want to discuss two concepts, “Victim Displacement”, and “Target Hardening”.

Victim/Target Displacement, is a depressing concept/idea, but one that accurately reflects reality. It proposes that there will always be a certain level of violence, that targets individuals/groups, and that it’s not possible to prevent it, only redirect it. An example of this would be, a mugger who is looking for victims in a particular location; there will be some individuals that they ignore, and others that they select. Those that they don’t target, have the potential violence that may have been directed towards them, redirected towards the more suitable/attractive victims. Theoretically, the mugger still seeks the same number of victims, it’s just that some of that violence is displaced from some individuals, towards others – when we teach personal safety and self-protection, we are not trying to reduce the total number of muggings in our locale, rather we are teaching people, to not be selected as victims; we are Target Hardening them, making them unattractive victims, compared to others. Unfortunately, according to the concept, somebody has to be a victim.

The same is true of acts of terrorism; somebody, something or some group will be targeted. Terrorists, don’t give up because things become too difficult for them – they may look for softer targets, and/or conduct more sophisticated attacks. It is probable that Bastille Day celebrations in Nice next year, will be subject to much more scrutiny by the security services, than they were this year, and in all likelihood, roads will be closed/blockaded to prevent another attack of this nature. Nice, beginning today, will start to harden itself as a target, so that it doesn’t become the target for another mass killing. This is not to say it should have or even could have predicted that such an event would occur, rather that the natural response when you have been targeted, is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. This also happens on an individual basis; I think all self-defense instructors have had individuals start training in response to an incident of violence, such as a mugging, or a bar fight, etc. that they were involved in i.e. they want to target harden themselves so this doesn’t happen again, and if it does, they will know how to deal with it.     

Victim/Target displacement and Target Hardening, can be clearly seen/demonstrated in the 2016, March bombings at Brussels Airport. Most airports, have tightened security up to a level where it is difficult for a passenger to get a bomb on to a plane, they have also made it extremely difficult for individuals to get firearms and/or explosives into the departure lounge – these locations/areas have been target-hardened. The one area where security isn’t as tight, is in and around the departure hall. Violence, which may have traditionally targeted an airplane in flight, has been displaced to a softer target i.e. the departure lounge. In response to the Nice truck attack, security agencies around the world have said that they will be stepping up, and tightening the security, at events where there will be large crowds. If they are effective at doing this, then the violence that would normally be targeted at these events, will be displaced towards softer and easier targets. These terrorist acts may also become less sophisticated, which means the number of incidents may increase (how much training is required to hire a truck, and drive it along a road packed with pedestrians?), and with this so does the possibility that we as individuals may find ourselves having to deal with an act of terror – something which, at the moment, we may think of as being remote. My intention is not to scare-monger, but explain, that as security in one are increases, violence becomes displaced, and moves to easier/softer targets.

The less sophisticated the attack/threat, the less training it requires to execute. The less protected an asset is, the more vulnerable it is to a threat. This combination, means that the risk of being involved in an act of terrorism increases; what was once beyond our imagining is now a distinct possibility, and we should be prepared for it. We cannot rely on the security services to identify and predict every potential terrorist, we cannot rely on law enforcement, etc. to always be on hand – we may be safer at public events in light of the events in Nice, but in our day-to-day lives, we may also be exposed to more risk, because of this. It would be wrong to conclude that because the security services are stepping up their game, increasing their vigilance, and putting more precautions in place that we are actually any safer; in fact the opposite may be true – more “lone wolves” may be inspired to conduct copycat attacks against softer targets, etc. I am not suggesting that more security is a bad thing, rather that we shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief and believe that because of it, we as individuals are now safer. Terrorist violence has to be directed somewhere, and it will be displaced (and is being displaced) to softer and softer targets, which means it’s coming closer and closer to us as individuals. What should our response be? Education and training in prediction, prevention and identification.          

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Synchronization Of Movement

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 11th Jul)

We are often advised by police, self-defense instructors, and others, that we should be more situationally aware i.e. that we should check our environment, for suspicious behaviors, and things that look out of place etc. Whilst this is good advice, it doesn’t help us much, unless we know what we are actually looking for – how we actually become more situationally aware. This is one of the reasons that I have little use for personal safety “tips” e.g. when jogging, don’t run with your headphones/earbuds in. Unfortunately, following this advice doesn’t by default make you safer, because if you don’t know what a threat or danger looks like, you won’t be able to identify it, whether you are listening to music or not. One piece of advice that is often given as a good example of situational awareness, is to be suspicious of the person wearing a winter coat on a hot day; yes, they could be a suicide bomber, or an active shooter, using the large coat to conceal explosives, and/or weapons, or they could be the homeless person who uses it to store and transport their possessions etc. The important factor is not the coat, but the context. The better way to become more situationally aware, is to throw out the “rules”, and begin to understand other people’s movement - specifically how it relates to ours, within the context of our situation.

For somebody to assault you, they must first synchronize their movement to yours. Whilst it may be difficult to ascertain whether somebody is watching/surveying you, assessing whether you are victim material or not, it is much easier to identify when somebody’s movement, is a response to yours e.g. somebody starts to follow you, etc. There are four basic types of synchronization of movement, which can be remembered by the acronym WAIT. These are:Waiting

1. Waiting

2. Approaching

3. Intercepting

4. Tracking

If somebody knows where you are going to be, within a certain time window, they will be able to wait for you there. On Friday, a game called “Pokemon Go”, was released. The premise of the game, that runs as an app on your smartphone, is that there are Pokemon characters, virtually located at certain geographic points. You view the landscape, through the phone’s camera, and when you get close to one of the characters, the phone alerts you to their presence. When you are close enough, the character appears on the screen, as if existing in your physical environment, and you can interact with them. Obviously, the game is intended for children, rather than adults, however it can make adult predators, aware of locations that children who play the game will be heading to – they will also be aware, that a child who realizes they are close to a Pokemon character, will not be thinking about their personal safety, or anything their parents have told them, once they have them on their screen (it’s also a “talking point” that an adult predator can use to start a conversation with the child). A parent may think that their child is safe when playing this game in an enclosed park or similar, where they can be seen, however child abductions can happen in seconds, and if a predator knows where a child will be, they can take steps to plan a successful getaway from that point. This is not to say that children shouldn’t play/be given the game, rather that parents and guardians should be aware of how a predatory individual could use the game to synchronize their movement to a child, and how they can supervise their child’s play to make sure it’s safe.

If somebody directly approaches you, it is pretty easy to identify their movement in relation to yours. However, if they use the cover of a crowd, it may be much more difficult to identify e.g. they weave through the crowd, moving towards you, keeping you in their sights, as you make your way through the crowd moving towards them – imagine a subway system where you are walking to one platform, and your potential assailant is moving the other way, towards the direction from which you have just come. This is a common method that many muggers use to commit their crimes. Most people in a crowd, naturally/unconsciously lower their situational awareness, because they believe that they are “safe” when others have eyes on them, whilst at the same time relying on others to identify potential dangers on their behalf – this is why it is important to actively “switch on” when we are in crowded places, as by default, we will start to switch off.

Interception is one of the most common forms of synchronization of movement, with a predator either cutting across our path, moving with us at an oblique angle, or getting to a certain place as we do, etc. We should be aware as to when our environment, lends itself to interception. “Funnels” are places in our environment, where we are directed towards a particular location. A good example of this, would be in a subway station, where there is a large open area, with ticket gates, that lead to an escalator; both the gates and the escalator, act as a funnel, concentrating people through a confined exit, and restricting their movement, etc. These locations are prime real estate for pick pockets, who can intercept individuals, moving in behind them to gain access to a purse or open pocket. The funneling effect that the escalators create, give these criminals the time to intercept a target, and potentially hidden by a crowd, the ability to commit their crimes with little chance of detection – any movement their victim detects can easily be explained away by the jostling of the crowd.

Tracking is the fourth type of synchronization. We are normally alerted to the fact that somebody is behind us by our fear system adrenalizing us, when it picks up on the footsteps/movement behind us. One way to check whether this is true synchronization, or just somebody who has fallen into step with us, is to alter and change our speed and direction. If the person behind us mirrors this, then we can be fairly confident that they have tied their movement to ours, and we should prepare to deal with the possible danger.

Recognizing people’s movements, and how they relate to ours is crucial if we are to have effective situational awareness. If somebody wants to cause you physical harm, they must make contact with you, and this means moving towards you in some way. If we are able to recognize such movement, we may be able to move away and disengage, or if this isn’t possible, at least give ourselves the chance to prepare for dealing with a physical assault. 

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Blocks As Attacks

(Gershon Ben Keren - Thu 7th Jul)

A block should only really be used as a block, if you’re caught by surprise e.g. sucker punched – and if you are sucker punched, you should be aware of what that makes you i.e. a sucker; your situational awareness, threat recognition, and understanding of pre-violence indicators, should have alerted you to the potential danger you were in, and given you the time to create distance, control range, and prepare yourself for the attack, so that you’re not taken completely by surprise (if your de-escalation or disengagement strategies are unsuccessful or unworkable). It is worth remembering that most assaults happen face-to-face, and are usually preceded by some form of dialogue (the “interview”), so there is normally the opportunity to avoid being “suckered” - as long as you are able to accept the situation you are in, and don’t remain in a state of denial. This preparation will allow you to change your block, from being purely defensive, to something that is offensive i.e. an attack.

Changing the way you view blocking, from being a defensive tool, to an offensive one, is beneficial for a number of reasons. One of these is the shift in your mindset; you are no longer protecting yourself, rather you are attacking your assailant – every contact you make with them is an attack. If you are defending a circular strike with your forearm (as a 360 block), you are ramming the blade of your bone into their arm, as a strike. You are not looking to merely stop the attack, but to cause trauma to the attacking arm; to destroy a limb. Consequently, your assailant should start to associate every attack they make, with pain e.g. they throw a punch, they get hurt, they try to slash/stab you, they get hurt, etc. This is a very effective way of breaking up an attacker’s rhythm, and flow, causing them to be hesitant, and uncommitted in their attacks – something which is crucial when dealing with an assailant who is stabbing/slashing in a frenzied manner where the knife is being recoiled and returned quickly.

When an assailant is stabbing, attacking the arm is crucial, and without this approach, you may see your forearm being cut, if your attacker puts a circular motion to the stab, as they recoil the knife. Breaking and interrupting their recoil/timing by “attacking” their arm will prevent this from happening, and also create the time for you to move in.

All blocks, when using them as attacks, should be accompanied by movement. There are three basic reasons why you move: as part of an attack, to put you in a position where you can attack, or to move you away from danger. To end a fight quickly, our block, should facilitate movement that’s part of an attack upon the attacker i.e. our block should attack the arm which is striking/slashing us, and create the space, time and distance, that allows us to launch our own directed attack against our assailant – simultaneous block and strike (a fundamental principle of Krav Maga is the idea that attack should follow defense, at the earliest opportunity). A good example of this is seen when we defend straight strikes and punches. When strikes come out from an attacker’s silhouette/shape, they also act as an obstacle preventing us from moving forward, towards our assailant, where we can deliver our own strikes and punches etc. We may be able to move somewhat to the side and in, however in reality, when an attacker is punching with recoil, their hand movement will beat our body movement, and we will probably find ourselves in range to strike, but having to deal with a second punch etc. If we attack the punch aggressively, moving it across our assailant’s body, not only will we interrupt its recoil, but create the space for ourselves to move almost directly forward – not only beating the recoil, but moving to a position, where we are behind the punching arm. If we keep in mind that we are thinking about our block as a strike to the assailant’s arm, we are already in a “striking” mindset, with our next strike simply being delivered to another target e.g. the head, the throat etc.

To use blocks in this manner, we must be able to control range and distance – one of the core skills and attributes that must be developed. By controlling range i.e. being outside of an assailant’s strikes, we will give ourselves the time needed, to turn our blocks from something which is required to defend us (because we have no choice), to something that can be used as an attack. If we can force our assailant to have to move as part of their attack (in order for it to reach us) we will create an “early warning” signal that a punch/strike is on its way. It may be that this body movement alone, would be enough to defend us e.g. we could simply step back in response to our attacker’s movement in order to avoid being hit etc. The block, should therefore, be seen as a way to “join” ourselves to our attacker, so that we are moving towards them, closing down their distance and range, and putting them within ours.

Krav Maga is an attacking style, and this means everything has to be part of an attack/assault. Defense, as defense should not exist, it should always be part of an attack, or setting us up to attack. Blocks may protect us as a by-product of the attack, however this should not be their primary intent.

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Specificity of Violence

(Gershon Ben Keren - Fri 1st Jul)

Self-defense and personal safety is specific to the individual; something which can easily be forgotten, when teaching different groups. A good example of this is the difference in the nature and types of assaults experienced by men and women e.g. men are most likely to be subjected to assaults which predominately involve striking, whilst women are much more likely to experience attacks, where their movement is controlled and restricted, etc. This is not to say that women shouldn’t learn how to block and protect themselves from strikes and punches, but rather that if we look at the way women are generally assaulted, it largely differs to the ways in which men are attacked i.e. gender is an important factor in determining the violence an individual is likely to face.

Age is also an important factor – in school bullying situations, a bullied child is more likely to have to deal with multiple assailants, than a middle aged man or woman, etc. Violence is specific to the profile of the victim who is targeted. This is important to understand, because when we read magazine articles and similar, that tell us, that these are the five most important self-defense techniques we should know, we should question whether they actually apply to us. Are the techniques/defenses listed applicable to the types of assault we are likely to face, given our particular lifestyle?

No writer or author (and I include myself in this), can say that what we present, represents your profile 100% - we don’t know. Crime statistics aren’t categorized in a way that would allow us to make even the most general statements about which attacks people are most likely to face; we rely on our own experiences, and those who we work with – and we have to acknowledge, like our own experiences, that theirs are limited too.

Geography has a part to play, when we start to look at what the most relevant types of attack, which we need to learn to defend against. Ice pick style knife attacks are common in Israel at the moment, but don’t appear as prevalently in the US or the UK. When I taught in the UK, I was often asked about how to defend against knife attacks from behind e.g. someone stabbing a knife into your buttocks, when standing behind you, etc. I have never been asked this since I started teaching in the US. I’m sure these types of attack have and do happen here, but from people’s lack of concern about it, it doesn’t seem that they are the most common. I would also hazard a guess that such attacks are aimed more at men in their early 20’s, rather than middle aged people living in the suburbs.

Even within the US, different cities, experience different types of violence. Gun violence in Boston, where I live and teach, is not nearly as common as that in a city such as Chicago. What may be a likely type of attack/assault in Chicago, may not be as relevant to somebody living in Boston. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t important for somebody living in a city with low gun violence, to learn how to defend themselves against firearms; such assaults may be relatively low frequency, but they carry and contain high consequences. However, if I was teaching in Chicago, I would probably cover assaults with firearms, on a much more regular basis, than I do at the moment, simply because my students would be much more likely to have to deal with them, and it is important as a reality based self-defense instructor to teach that which is relevant.

This is one of the issues with teaching what is ostensibly a military system, to civilians, and the double danger of teaching Krav Maga which is taught to special forces, elite units, etc. A military solution may be suitable for a civilian situation, but it is not by default; the instructor teaching the technique/solution may need to translate what they are teaching for it to be applicable. I remember that one of the first techniques I was ever taught in a civilian class, was how to defend a rear strangle – something that from my own personal experience working in bar and club security, I have rarely seen; normally involving a third party trying to pull somebody away, etc. The technique is relevant for civilians to learn, but the context of the attack is largely different to that faced in the military, where it is taught as a defense against sentries being taken out. Violence is context specific, and needs to be taught this way if it is to be relevant; what may be a likely attack to one audience, might be less likely to another.

Violence, also changes over time, meaning that what may indeed have been a likely attack at one point, becomes less likely or irrelevant at a later date. A good example of this can be seen in the way that muggers and robbers have “updated” some of the ways in which they carry out their crimes. I remember having to change some of my knife threat defenses, where the knife is pointed against the stomach, when I heard about a spate of muggings in the area where one of my schools was located, where the muggers were actually breaking the flesh, and holding the knife pushed into their victim’s stomach – not deeply, but enough that if you pushed the knife to the side, you would end up creating a serious wound. In a matter of weeks, what I had been teaching became not only irrelevant but extremely dangerous. Certain scenarios that may have been common at one point, may change over time, and even become less likely than others.

The real danger of articles and the like, which suggest that there is a common set of likely assaults that everybody, regardless of age, gender and geography faces, is that it makes people lazy in making their own personal risk assessments, and identifying the specific vulnerabilities that their lifestyle contains – and we all have vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. It can also make self-defense training seem irrelevant to certain sections of the population, if they can’t imagine or see themselves being attacked in any of the scenarios listed. If one takes for granted that there really are 5 self-defense techniques that everybody should know, that deal with the most likely attacks you’ll face, and none of them relate to you and your lifestyle, then one might conclude there isn’t much point investing time in learning how to defend yourself, as there really isn’t any need. Unfortunately, you may be failing to learn how to defend yourself against the types of assault you are more likely to face.

I understand the desire of some instructors to try and simplify self-defense for people, to present self-defense in bite sized chunks, that are easy for people to digest, etc. But presenting the idea that every population and demographic is subjected to the same attacks (and hence requires the same defenses), is naive and simplistic, and not relatable to real world violence. Violence is specific to the individual and their situation, and the individual threats and vulnerabilities present in their lifestyle determine what type of situations they are likely to face, and what type of solutions they require. To say that myself and an 18-year old female college student are likely to face the same types of threats, dangers, and attacks, is patently wrong, and to train us in exactly the same way would be to do at least one of us (probably both) a great disservice. 

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